Book Excerpt: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

In October, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world has only a dozen years to halve its carbon emissions to safely avoid two degrees of warming and all those “Catastrophic” impacts.

If the world as a whole had begun decarbonization in the year 2000, when Al Gore collected half a million more votes in the presidential election than George W. Bush, emissions would have had to fall by 3 percent per year to achieve climate stability at two degrees; if we begin now, we will have to cut them by 10 percent each year; if we wait another decade, the cuts will be enormous, 30 percent per year, to even hope for warming levels below “Genocide.” Last year, Nordhaus’s own nephew Ted wrote in Foreign Affairs that the dream of keeping the world under two degrees of warming, under any approach, was simply naïve.

We have not yet really begun to consider the ways in which climate change will shape and distort our global politics – bringing carbon budgets into the architecture of trade agreements and peace treaties, reshaping rivalries between nations by literally reshaping their geographies, introducing in the face of drowning nations and uninhabitable cities in the poorest parts of the world the matter of climate reparations and the question of just who will pay.

Last June, a breakthrough in carbon capture was published by a team of scientists led by David Keith to much fanfare: “It’s Possible to Reverse Climate Change,” ran one representative headline.

In the meantime, climate change will likely continue to pummel us, so much that the new world we find ourselves stepping into may feel so alien from our own it might as well be another planet entirely.

The astrophysicist Adam Frank calls this kind of thinking “The astrobiology of the Anthropocene” in his book Light of the Stars, which considers climate change, the future of the planet, and our stewardship of it from the perspective of the universe – “Thinking like a planet,” he calls it.

Fatalism has a strong pull in a time of ecological crisis, but even so it is a curious quirk of our present predicament that the transformation of the planet by anthropogenic climate change – that is, climate change caused by humans – has produced a vogue for Fermi’s paradox and so little for its philosophical counterpoint, the anthropic principle.

This article was summarized automatically with AI / Article-Σ ™/ BuildR BOT™.

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